How do I clean my PC’s registry?

August 28, 2010

After a few months of operations, a PC gets tangled up in its own inner registry workings, which can gum up the works. After a year or so, it can really slow things down. Here’s one way to clean up your computer.

One of the least understood parts of the Windows system is the registry, and it is one which effects the operation of your computer in a major way. There is a gotcha in all of this, because tinkering with your registry can be very dangerous. This is, after all, where your PC stores most of its settings and application details. If it gets some of that wrong, your system will never be the same again. Almost everything a Windows PC does is informed and guided by entries in the registry file.

One problem is the sheer bulk of the file itself. Every time you install a new application or even just visit the Web, new entries are written into the registry file. Sometimes a program will write hundreds of entries into the registry when it is installed, will continue to make regular entries while you run it, and then will not remove any of those entries even of you uninstall the program. It is no wonder why a PC with a lot of time on the clock can be slowed down by all of these entries.

It is possible that if you have not installed many programs beyond what was there when you got your computer, and if you do not really use it for much, or for very long each day, your registry file may not be in bad shape. The registry is not the only thing that can slow down your system, and if your performance is waning, it may be something else entirely. But if you have installed a lot of new programs and your system gets a lot of hard use, a clogged registry is a good bet.

The only real ways to clean up registry problems is to be a Windows uber-guru or to use a registry cleaner utility. That leaves most of us with just the utility. One hears varying things about these programs, some good and some bad. In something this complex, no matter what you read or who you talk to, your mileage may vary. Registry cleaning is a crapshoot.

The most important thing that you can do is back up your registry before you do anything to it. That way, you can at least go back to a usable state. In truth, a complete backup of your system is always a good idea to prevent disasters. With the cost of external drives as low as it is, there is no excuse not to have a backup of your system. Yet, very few PC owners ever bother. For just backing up the registry, use ERUNT, a free utility you can find just by Googling. Full system backups are beyond the scope of this article, but it’s probably time for you to start boning up on how to do it.

If your performance problems are so bad that you have attempted all the other options and are ready to try a registry cleaner, don’t forget to run ERUNT before you start. Choose a well-know and popular registry cleaning utility, like Registry First Aid, or Advanced WindowsCare personal, or perhaps a cleaner that a friend uses and can recommend.

You should probably take it slow and easy. All registry cleaners offer a variety of settings. Read the documentation so you can decide which options are the least dangerous. Start with those and run the cleaner, being as careful as you can. Then run the system for a week or so to make sure that you have not caused any major problems. If performance is still not back to normal, do it all over again with slightly more aggressive cleaning settings. Keep on with this method of slightly more aggressive settings and a week of testing until your performance improves or you are out of options. If things break along the way, restore you last registry backup.

But remember, you have to keep that registry file backed up!

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7 Responses to “How do I clean my PC’s registry?”

  1. JohnJ:

    CCleaner from Piriform and available at ccleaner.com does a good job. It not only cleans the registry but makes a backup file containing the changes so you can put them back in if needed. It also cleans other things like temp files. I make a point to run it every month or two.

  2. ilev:

    I would recommend the portable version of ERUNT. The more you use portable application and the less you install on Windows PCs, the better you are.Just Google.

  3. ilev:

    JohnJ: I wouldn’t let Ccleaner anywhere near a Windows Registry file. The most , just for cleaning temp files , which the app is mediocre at this too.

    For registry cleaning and compacting , use JV16.

  4. An Apple a day...:

    Use OS X and you’ll never have to do this crap again. Just sayin…..

  5. JohnJ:

    No way would I trust ERUNT on a Vista or 7 system since it hasn’t been updated since literally years before those two OS versions were released. Not to mention the myriad apps and changes in the industry that have occurred since.

    In Vista it only works if you disable UAC; that’s a bad thing.

    And for XP they erroneously state that a registry backup is all that’s needed in place of Windows’ System Restore.

    Nope. It may well have been be a good registry cleaner in XP’s heyday but I wouldn’t touch it with a 10 foot pole for anything newer.

  6. stopstopp:

    I have never heard of the two things above, I only use CCleaner personally.

  7. Aamir:

    Actually, there are many this kind of software, most are not for free, some for free. Usually, most people think that Registry Clean is the only way. no, no… to optimize you computer, it’s not so simple.

    there r many things. Clean all the PC junk files like registry, history trace, duplicate file. Optimize your IE, manage all your software, tweak your CUP usage etc some more.

    About ccleaner, it just functions as registry clean. With multifunction, about freeware, i currently use T55 WinMate.

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